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Brown Bear

Ursus arctos L., 1758

Order Carnivora

Family Ursidae

Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Endangered EN [C2a(i)], BDA-II, III; International: BeC-II, CITES-II, HD-II, IV.

General distribution. North America; Palearctic Asia; Northern and Eastern Europe, the Carpatians. The Balkan peninsula and several regions in Spain and Italy are inhabited by a genetically differentiated, relic, Pleistocene population [1].

Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. Until the end of the 19th century, in all mountains and in the Ludogorie region. After the 1930s it was preserved only in the Central Balkan range and the Rila-Rhodope massif. In 1980 the numbers were estimated at 600 individuals [2], in 1992 about 800, but this is an overestimation. The brown bear inhabits a territory with an area of 1,1 mln ha; the numbers in the Central Balkan range are 150 to 190 individuals, and in the Rila-Rhodope massif 300-360 (including cubs) [3; 4; 5; 6; 7; B. Kirov, unpublished report]. Wandering in the neighbouring mountains are 25-30 bears, mainly young. In the two meta-populations the sexually mature individuals are 55-70 and 115-140 (including those from the Greek Rhodope). Another estimation for 2007 (A. Dutsov, pers. com.) gives similar total numbers: about 415-555 individuals. Since 1988, there have been cases of bears passing into the Western Balkan range, coming from the east or most probably from Serbia (Bulgarian Forestries Questionnaire, 1989).

Habitats. Coniferous and deciduous forests usually over 600 1 000 m, subalpine shrubs, rock massifs and gorges.

Biology. The females reach sexual maturity at the age of 3-4 years, the males at the age of 5-6 years. The mating season most often takes place in May-June. The female gives birth once every 2-3 years, mainly in caves, often near the upper border of the forest. The young ones, 2 at the average, are usually born in January, leaving the den in April and following their mother for 2 years. [3]. In Bulgaria only pregnant females have an obligatory lethargy. The region of the territorial bears is usually between 1 500 and 5 000 ha [3].

Similar species. None.

Negative factors. Isolation of the two meta-populations. Increased human poaching. Urbanization in the mountains; disturbance. Felling old natural forests. Feeding by man in the hunting farms (changing the ecology and the behaviour of the bears). Late maturity and high lethality up to the age of 3 years (up to 85 %) [8; 9; Raycho Ganchev, pers. com.].

Conservation measures taken. The species is protected as of 1993, with an exception for bears making damages. It was included in the Bulgarian Red Data Book of 1985. Declaration of the Central Balkan, Rila and Pirin national parks, and the Rila Monastery, Balgarka and Vitosha (where 20-25 % of the population is) natural parks. National and international programmes for the preservation of the species.

Conservation measures needed. Declaration of natural parks in the Western Rhodopes, Sredna Gora, the Western Balkan range, Osogovska mountain; enlargement of the Pirin national park (10; 11). Creation of buffer zones around the national parks. Provision of corridors between the local populations, including neighbouring countries. A long-term programme for increasing the area of old forests [11]. Introduction of an efficient system for compensating the damages made by bears. Development of the population to about 800-850 individuals.

References. 1. Spassov, 2003; 2. Spiridonov, Spassov, 1985; 3. Gunchev, 1989; 4. Spassov et al., 1999a; 5. Spassov et al., 1999b. 6. Spiridonov, 2003; 7. Spassov, Spiridonov, 2006. 8. Geptner et al., 1967; 9. Filonov, Kaletskaya, 1986; 10. Spiridonov, Spassov, 2005; 11. Spiridonov, Raev, 2006.

Authors: Geko Spiridonov, Nikolai Spassov


Brown Bear (distribution map)

Brown Bear (drawing)